Monday, November 15, 2010

Off the Beaten Path in New York City

It’s the city that never sleeps. It does eat, though, and it goes out a lot. New York keeps visitors and locals very busy. There is a great deal to do and see, hear and taste.

If you’re a “Highlights” kind of person, you might be absolutely satisfied to hit the ultra-famous spots in New York City. If you have the time, though, a small step off the beaten path will often afford you a closer look or an insider’s perspective on the Big Apple. There is no denying the thrill of the view from Lady Liberty’s crown. But once you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, you can follow the American immigrant story one step further with a visit to the groundbreaking Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The museum tells the stories of 19th and 20th century immigrants’ experience through tours of the tenement apartments and the surrounding neighborhood.

The beaten path will take classical music enthusiasts to Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall or Metropolitan Opera, two extraordinary performance houses. But visitors in the know will check out the program just down the street at lesser-known Merkin Concert Hall, an ideal space for chamber music and smaller ensembles. The 450-seat hall is nestled in the Kaufman Center, one block north of Lincoln Center. Merkin Concert Hall was twice awarded the ASCAP/Chamber Music America prize for Adventurous Programming. The Tuesday Matinee series here features up-and-coming young musicians and ensembles from around the world. This mid-week, midday gems offer a perfect opportunity to rest your feet and nourish your soul.

You can nourish the rest of you before or after the Merkin Concert Hall performance, at one of the many New York foody institutions on the Upper West Side. Zabar’s is the ultimate “food emporium”. New Yorkers take a number at the fish counter, then elbow one another just for the sport of it as they wait to buy their quarter pound of Nova Lox or a few precious ounces of Sterling Caviar. The Zabar’s Café offers a bagel and lox, knish, soup, fabulous coffee, and enough baked goods to merit a walk back for dessert after the performance at Merkin Concert Hall.

The concerts at Saint Thomas Church in Midtown Manhattan are a bit less frequent, but no less extraordinary. If you are in New York around Christmas or Easter, don’t miss the performances of the Saint Thomas Church Choir of Men and Boys. Saint Thomas Church has the only church-affiliated boarding choir school in the United States. The talented young choristers are among the most experienced and gifted the country has to offer. The boys’ voices are complemented by professional adult singers in the lower registers. The Saint Thomas Church Choir performances receive rave reviews from the New York Times. The church itself is a stunning example of American neo-Gothic architecture, and it also happens to be located just down the street from the Museum of Modern Art. After you have taken in the many treasures at the recently renovated temple to Modern Art, grab a bite to eat and prepare your eyes for the transition from sleek lines to soaring ornamental splendor.

Another New York insiders’ secret is the concert series of the Amor Artis Chamber Choir and Orchestra. The New Year’s Eve concert at St. Jean Baptiste Church is a festive and unpretentious annual event, with excellent musicians and an uplifting all-Bach program. Amor Artis’ charismatic founder and conductor, Johannes Somary, is entering his 50th year as music director. The years have in no way diminished his exuberance, which spreads through the ensemble and the audience at every performance.

You might notice a few of the singers hurrying off in sports gear after the New Year’s Eve concert. If you are looking for a truly unusual way to spend the rest of the big night, join them for fun in Central Park, as a participant or a spectator at the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run. Urban athletic folks brave the weather, often in flamboyant costumes, for a four-mile run, ending with champagne (this is the USA, so it will be alcohol-free or in a paper bag!) at the finish line.

Prices in Manhattan have squeezed many sworn Manhattanites off the tiny island, and although tourists rarely find their way to the other boroughs, there are more and more reasons to do so. A Manhattanite will tell you that the best reason to leave Manhattan is to get a better view of Manhattan. Well, that is certainly part of the thrill at the Bargemusic concerts in Brooklyn. In 1977, founder Olga Bloom transformed a coffee barge, built in 1899, into a floating chamber music hall. Anchored below the Brooklyn Bridge in the New York’s East River, Bargemusic offers excellent acoustics and fabulous views of the bridge and the lower Manhattan skyline. Local and visiting artists perform a variety of programs in about 220 concerts each year. In addition to standard classical chamber music repertoire, the “Here and Now Series” features contemporary American compositions, while “There and Then” concerts focus on Early Music. Bargemusic is easy to reach with public transportation, but if the weather allows, put on your walking shoes and cross the historic Brooklyn Bridge by foot. There is a separate raised walkway along the center of the bridge. Built in 1883, this connection between the island of Manhattan and the borough of Brooklyn was once travelled by horse-drawn traffic, trolley cars, and the elevated train. It continues to provide a vital connection for commuters and visitors today.

As spontaneous as New Yorkers can be, it is often a good idea to plan and book New York concert tickets ahead. Even the best kept secrets can draw a crowd in this something-for-everyone town. Whether you go the "Highlights" route or choose the road less travelled, there will always be something left to look forward to on your next trip to New York City.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Rome Concerts Connecting Old and New

Rome is a city alive with history. So, it is hardly surprising that the most active musical institution of this modern European capitol is among the oldest organizations of its kind. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia has its origins in a papal bull issued by Sixtus V in 1585. Begun as the “Congregation of Musicians under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Gregory and Saint Cecilia” (Congregazione dei Musici sotto l'invocazione della Beata Vergine e dei Santi Gregorio e Cecilia), it was first seated in the Church of Santa Maria ad Martires, now better known as the Pantheon.

One prominent theme that runs through the long and fascinating history of the Accademia is the search for a home. In its first 100 years of existence, the association moved within Rome several times. The first true home was established in 1685 at San Carlo ai Catinari, and practically every subsequent chapter in the history of Rome saw the Accademia moving to a new location.

Today, it seems that over 400 years of sojourning has ended in a tremendous architectural complex planned by Renzo Piano (*1937). The Auditorium Parco della Musica is comprised of three large, scarab-shaped concert buildings, plus an outdoor amphitheater. In keeping with the historical sense of the city, the complex, which was built on the grounds of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games, incorporates ancient archaeological finds that emerged during construction.

Visitors to the Auditorium Parco della Musica this season can hear the orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia performing with such legendary pianists as Maurizio Pollini and Lang Lang or under the baton of visiting conductors Valery Gergiev and Kirill Petrenko.

A classical concert in the Auditorium of Rome seemlessly connects yesterday with tomorrow: Classictic welcomes Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Classic Sweepstakes

CLASSICTIC is happy to join with in presenting a special opportunity to combine the dynamic culture of Salzburg with the natural beauty of the region. Win a dream trip in the land of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A two-night stay for two people at the beautiful Sheraton Fuschlsee-Salzburg Hotel Jagdhof, and a 200 Euro CLASSICTIC Gift Certificate await the winner of this Classical Competition.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Eye Contact and other Tango Stunts

It is fascinating, riveting, almost super-human. Tango requires passion, rhythm, coordination, strength, spontaneity. I see mere mortals dancing the Tango, and I ask myself, “Could I?” In a careful first approach to the dance, I looked up some of the basic terminology.

Abrazo — The embrace; a hug; or dance position.

Adorno — Adornment; embellishment. [Not a literary theorist?]

Apilado Style — Piled on: As used in tango, the reference is to the way a jockey is "piled on" his horse, when racing—hugging the neck.

Arrepentida — Repentant; To change one’s mind: A family of steps which allow a couple to back away from a collision or traffic jam in a minimal amount of space and on short notice. [Repentant backtracking. Lots of practice here.]

Cabeceo — (from cabeza; head): Traditional technique for selecting dance partners from a distance at the milongas in Buenos Aires by using eye contact and head movements. [A challenge to the New York City upbringing. There, eye contact with strangers is, well, not recommended.]

Caricias — Caresses: A gentle stroking with the leg or shoe against some part of the partner's body. They can be subtle or extravagant. [Um, let’s stick with subtle.]

Castigada — (from castigar - to punish) a punishment: A lofting of the lady's working leg followed by flexing at the knee and caressing the working foot down the outside of the supporting leg. [Whew.]

Entregarme — Surrender: To give oneself up to the leader’s lead.

Freno — To stop and hold; brake. [Ah, emergency brake. Excellent. Is there an eject button, too?]

Milonga — May refer to the music, written in 2/4 time, or to the dance which preceded the tango, or to the dance salon where people go to dance tango, or to a tango dance and party.

Mordida — From morder: to bite; the little bite: One partner’s foot is sandwiched or trapped between the other partner’s feet. [In soccer, we call that a foul.]

Parejas — Couple: The two partners in a tango.

Planchadoras — The women who sit all night at the milongas without being asked to dance. The main reason for that, is because they don't know how to dance well enough. Yes, it may seem cruel but one of the many tango lyrics actually says something like, "let them learn as a consequence of sitting all night." [At least it sounds much sexier than “wallflowers”.]

Sentada — From sentar - to sit. A sitting action: A family of figures in which the lady creates the illusion of sitting in, or actually mounts, the man’s leg. Frequently used as a dramatic flourish at the end of a dance. [Whew.]

Suave — Smooth, steady and gentle, soft, stylish. A major objective in tango.

Tanguero — (feminine; Tanguera) Refers to anyone who is deeply and seriously passionate about any part of tango, such as its history, music, lyrics, etc. In Argentina most tangueros are scholars of lunfardo, music, orchestrations, Gardel, etc.

Vareador — From horse racing; a man who walks the horses but is never allowed to mount them: In tango, it refers to a man who dances and flirts with all the ladies but never gets involved with anyone. May also refer to a man who is a clumsy or inconsiderate lead who “might just as well be walking a horse.”

Right, well, I might need a few years of practice before hitting the dancefloor. Meanwhile, I'll settle for sitting on the sidelines, a hopeful planchadora. welcomes La Ventana, a fabulous Tango venue in the heart of San Telma, the beautifully preserved historical neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Demons of Barcelona

Visit the “Culture” rubric of the first five cities that spring to mind. You will generally find topics like “Museums”, “Concerts”, “Theatre”, or “Nightlife”. Go a little deeper into the site, and the city’s personality may emerge a bit. But on the whole, the categories don’t differ much between London and Paris, New York and Berlin. So, I was rather surprised to find the following listings on the official web site of Barcelona, Spain:
  • Bestiary and demon groups
  • Folk Music
  • ‘Casteller’ groups (human tower builders)
  • Giants
  • Choral singing
  • Travelling Liveliness
  • Dance
Hmm. We New Yorkers are accustomed to claiming that New York has it all. I admit, I’ve never searched the Yellow Pages back home for demon groups, but I would venture to guess that the listings are limited, at best. In Barcelona, if you’re not particular about which neighbourhood the bestiary and demon group should hail from, you can choose from 159 registered organisations. Who knew?

It turns out that the primary leisure activity of the demon groups is to beat drums and run through the streets with fireworks held aloft on long forks. In a ritual called “correfoc”, or “fire runs”, the costumed demons take to the streets and raise a row, allowing sparks from the fireworks to spray about among passers by. The ultimate correfoc season is in August and September. The Festa Major de Gràcia in August is a weeklong celebration beginning on or around the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15). The Festes de la Mercè in late September is a citywide celebration of Barcelona’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary (Mercè refers to the the Virgin of Mercy). If you are anxious to find out what is behind cultural categories like Giants and Human Tower Builders, consider a visit to Barcelona during these festivals.

If you prefer to take in local colour without risking setting your hair on fire, consult the concert and opera listings for the rest of the year in Barcelona. Discover the restrained passion of the Spanish guitar, or take in a zarzuela, the Spanish comic opera form, by 20th century Catalonian composer, Amadeu Vives. Try a fiery Flamenco event, or slip into the 19th century home of local pianist and composer Luis de Arquer for an intimate recital. Of course, daring music lovers can have the best of both worlds and simply plan to dodge the flaming demons on the way to the concert hall.

On the other hand, streetlife on the famous Rambla promenade is enough of a spectacle for most travelers, and Antoni Gaudí's jubilant architecture, found throughout Barcelona, is as extravagant as any firework display. And it's a whole lot safer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Claustrophobia and other excellent reasons to go to a concert in Paris

The thing about visiting old friends in a new city is that sometimes you get so caught up in catching up, that you forget to get out and see the sights. Suddenly another precious day has gone by, and you are still stretched out on the sofa, finally exchanging all of the vital information that hasn’t fit into emails and Facebook. Staying with friends is less expensive and more personal, but it can mean taking your homebody ways with you.

In Paris, however, unless your old buddy is heiress to some great fortune, you are in no danger of not getting out of the house. Because, when you get out of bed in a Paris apartment, chances are, you are already halfway out the door. In order to live affordably in the center of the City of Lights, perfectly normal and full-sized adults move into homes that would barely qualify as a walk-in closet in other European capitals.

If you have not yet experienced this phenomenon, I can only offer this advice: When your friend says she lives in a really small place, she doesn’t mean upright piano instead of mini-grand. She means that if your suitcase doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment or beneath the seat in front of you, it will be living in the bathtub for the duration of your stay in Paris. So, pack light, bring earplugs, and plan to go out a lot.

When the trek to the top of the Eiffel Tower has worn you out, drop into the Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel metro station, and re-emerge at St Michel/Notre Dame. With a bit of advanced planning, you can grab a bite to eat and then plunge into the magical atmosphere of Notre Dame Cathedral, where Tuesday evenings are often filled with sacred music. Let the hectic thoughts of the day (many of which probably begin with “I can’t believe how much I just spent on that…”) melt away, while the powerful organ or a vocal ensemble offers a sense of the Cathedral atmosphere beyond the elbowing tourists. Notre Dame is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world, so try to reserve your concert seats beforehand.

If your visit doesn’t allow for a concert at Notre-Dame, never fear. Sainte-Chapelle Church is much more manageable in size, and its stained glass windows are breathtakingly beautiful. Here, your visit is almost certain to coincide with a concert, if you travel between mid-March and November. The musicians are excellent and the concert programs feature many of the “greatest hits” of the classical repertoire. For a more relaxed experience, be sure book the tickets in advance.

If your friend’s digs are leaving you feeling less than regal, plan a visit to the Palais Garnier. It’s the perfect opportunity to put on the fabulous dress that you probably just bought for an insane amount of money in a boutique in the Marais. (In fact, you should probably just put the dress on in the store’s changing room. Chances are, it’s bigger than your host’s flat.) Take the métro to Opéra, and enter the dazzling 19th century interpretation of Baroque, known to many simply as the Paris Opéra. The program here includes opera, chamber music, and recitals. Many events sell out, so it is worth doing a bit of advanced planning here as well.

As your Paris holiday is coming to an end and you are tackling the acrobatic task of getting all of your new purchases into your suitcase without taking it out the bathtub, you might want to leave a space-appropriate thank you gift. (e.g. If you haven't noticed a clear surface in the flat, avoid bringing flowers.) Give your expatriate pal a reason to leave the house, too: You can’t go wrong with a couple of tickets to the Salle Pleyel concert hall, or even a Classictic Gift Card, which lets your friend to decide when and where to go, when the walls start closing in.